Crowd Sourced Writing and Fan Fiction

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I recently began frequenting a crowd-sourced writing website called Skrawl.com. And I have to say I’m having a lot of fun.  Skrawl is set up for you to start a new story or to add to someone else’s story. Stories can be original fiction, non-fiction discussions, or fan fiction.

What makes it so much fun is that Skrawl has a competitive edge to it. When you add to someone’s story everyone in the community gets a chance to vote for your “bit” against anyone else who posted a “bit” for the same storyline. Points are awarded each time you post or vote and you can earn even more points if your “bit” wins.

There’s a social aspect to it too, you can comment on the stories like you would on sites like Facebook.

It’s a great way for me to play with ideas and see where other people take them.

One of my favorite stories posted by Greg Fishbone is a story called Trek Elementary. Trek Elementary is an alternate universe where Kirk, Spock and the gang are children and have created their own group called the Enterprise gang. They sometimes have run-ins with another gang on the block who call themselves the Klingons.

The story started with the kids trying to find a way to get candy from the candy store. Simple enough, but the next writer added the Klingons, then Jimmy Kirk got into trouble, etc. etc.  As you can imagine stories can go anywhere and they often do!

If  you have moment and want to read some short stories, or better yet, if you’d like to play along, join some of us over at Skrawl.com.  I currently have a few fan-fictions running, Divergent, Maleficent and Percy Jackson. Oh, and I just started a new adventure for Big Hero 6! Search for me, Ansha Kotyk, using the magnifying glass icon, I’d love to see you, and read your stories!!

AnshaKotyk Ansha Kotyk writes adventure stories for boys and girls. Check out Gangsterland, the story of Jonathan, who falls into a magical comic book and has to draw his way out.

Reverse Engineering for Book Marketing…

Remember that kid who decided to take apart a toy just to see how it worked? And then, surprise…that same kid couldn’t figure out how to put it back together again. We authors can sure learn something from that one kid. We can learn how to use reverse engineering to figure out why readers buy our books. Think about it. Kids take something (computer, radio controlled car, Barbie dolls) apart to see how it works, get to the guts of what makes that thing go, run, fly, burp. So why shouldn’t authors be able to take apart the sale that lured readers to buy the book in the first place?

The first question you should ask yourself is: Why did you purchase insert name of book? Was it because it was your friend’s book? Perhaps a suggestion? Or a book you learned about through a review? Was it an emotional purchase? Or was the book part of Oprah’s book club? I want you to chase down the sale and figure out what made you buy that certain book. Got it? Good.

Now once you do this kind of ‘reverse engineering’ you can build a profile for the sale. You get to see how a sale is built. You get to know how the book market works. That’s when you can develop a marketing strategy for your own books. Get it? Great.

A lot of times you’ll find the answer is word of mouth via the social media, or a friend suggested the book (or wrote it), or they passed by a bookstore window and the cover caught their eye. Even Oprah has the golden touch. Dig deep, and find the reason for that sale. Then, apply this newfound knowledge, and develop your own book marketing strategy. Doing my own reverse engineering, I’ve found the following six points may help boost your book sales:

If it doesn’t work, fix it. Let’s face it—some sales strategies work better than others. The trick is to reassess what you’ve been doing. If you’re not producing the sales you’d like to see for a certain book, then chances are you need to correct and fine-tune your methods. For some authors this may mean retooling their blurb or tagline or change the cover. For others, it could be giving their website or blog a fresh new look.

Listen and learn. A number of things factor into book sales. One of the most important is your target audience—who you are writing for. Ask yourself, how are you fulfilling your readers’ needs? What do you need to do to continually hook their attention? For starters, you have to be willing to walk that extra mile by getting to know and understand your readers. You do this through social networks (Facebook, Twitter), workshops, book signings, school and library visits, book clubs, and online communities such as Goodreads.

Show enthusiasm. Enthusiasm builds bridges. Panic tears them down. One thing an author has going for them is their unique voice. You use it in your books, so use it to sell them. Readers know when an author resonates with them. Be invested enough in yourself, as an author, to give your readers a fantastic story they’ll never want to end. Then write another one.

Sell yourself, on yourself. The power of positive thinking works wonders. Motivation builders such as podcasts, CDs or self-help books can help reinforce the super salesperson in you. Be specific with your goals and rewards, such as if you send out ten review requests in a day, book a pedicure or lunch with a friend. Write notes reminding yourself that you are a ‘Bestselling author’ and ‘You can do it’, then leave them around your desk. After all, seeing is believing.

Create a sales plan to suit each book. Every book you write is one of a kind. Sales tactics for one book may not work for the second book. That’s when you get creative and take chances. Giveaways are always a fan favorite. Experiment with each book until you get a sales formula that works for you. Sometimes a fresh pair of eyes help, so if you can afford it, hire a publicist or a marketing consultant. The bigger the investment, the bigger the payoff.

You give, you receive. “What goes around comes around”. This is a hard adage for a lot of authors to relate to, but it is nevertheless a vitally important point. And it’s a no-brainer. I tend to share a lot of useful information that could help my author peeps with their sales or marketing strategies. This comes naturally to me. Pass along opportunity when you can. It’s a wise investment—one that any author will never regret making.

Sharon Ledwith is the author of the middle-grade/YA time travel series, THE LAST Sharon Ledwith HeadshotTIMEKEEPERS, and is represented by Walden House (Books & Stuff) for her teen psychic series, MYSTERIOUS TALES FROM FAIRY FALLS. When not writing, researching, or revising, she enjoys reading, exercise, and anything arcane. Sharon lives a serene, yet busy life in a tourist region of Ontario, Canada, with her hubby, one spoiled yellow Labrador and a moody calico cat.

Learn more about Sharon Ledwith on her WEBSITE and BLOG. Look up her AMAZON AUTHOR page for a list of current books. Stay connected on FACEBOOK, TWITTER, GOOGLE+, TUMBLR, and GOODREADS. Check out THE LAST TIMEKEEPERS TIME TRAVEL SERIES Facebook page.

The Teachable Moment

First I was a reader, then an English major, then a high school teacher, then a writer and home schooling mother. As I plot out the curriculum for my kids (aged 12 and 14), I ponder all the stuff I read and taught. I know I should expose them to Great Literature so that they can learn from the inspiring themes of the past poets, playwrights and storytellers.

But then I think, “I’m pretty sure they’d enjoy that indie book by Michelle Isenhoff or Alan Tucker more…”  I’m torn. Do I stick with the famous, or go with what I’m sure will ignite their imagination?

This two-fold message is for the teachers out there—whether you’re in a brick-and-mortar school or sitting around the kitchen table.

#1 ~ Seize the Teachable  Moment

I team-taught an integrated Language Arts/Social Studies class for freshman a million years ago (according to my kids). Because I was the anchor personnel for language arts, I got to work with a few different social studies teachers. One in particular taught me as much as she did the kids. Her name was Casey. She was very tall, totally no-nonsense, and had a voice that could peel paint off the walls. And she was a genius at grabbing the teachable moments. It didn’t matter what had just happened in the news nationally, or in popular media, or school activities; Casey could tie it into the lesson and use it as an analogy to understand the dry world geography lessons we’d otherwise have to present. I never knew which angle she’d take as she presented her portion of the lesson each day because she always grabbed it right out of what was happening now. But I awaited her lessons eagerly. So did the kids. She was just cool that way.

#2 ~ Integrate Subjects

Casey taught me the importance of using a variety of sources and subjects to drive home an idea, and there’s no reason tween literature can’t be one of those. To illustrate, let me grab just a few titles from our own Emblazoners catalog

Cassidy Jones and the Secret FormulaElise Stokes’ books starring Cassidy Jones may seem, on the surface, to be just a fun superhero action series. However, there are healthy doses of science in each (some real, some speculative) that could spark an interest in students to do some further research into the possibilities and probabilities of certain inventions. Students could learn about everything from phlebotomy to animal behavior, and all kinds of things in between.

 

PrincessKandakeFINAL.jpg webStephany Jefferson’s books about Princess Kandake could enhance a unit on Africa’s ancient tribal customs or the wildlife there. Additionally, they provide the opportunity to discuss the changing roles of women in leadership over the centuries. This could even be a way to analyze why different cultures develop based on where they live on the planet.

 

 

ARROWoftheMIST (3)Christina Mercer’s series includes a great deal of information about plants and their various medicinal properties. Though some of the plants are fictional, a unit on how plants are used today in the health industry would be significant for both biology and chemistry students. They could learn the history of how different medicines were discovered and developed, or compare homeopathic/naturalistic remedies to their synthetically produced  counterparts.

 

AMOD_ME1_JF2grn2_200x300Alan Tucker’s fantasy series of Mother Earth provides a great springboard into discussions about the environmental impact made by everything from agriculture to industrial pollution. Students could learn about how one link in the food chain affects the rest of the ecosystem, and how a balance in nature can be restored and/or preserved.

 

 

TheCandleStar_cover_600x900Any of Michelle Isenhoff’s historical novels for tweens will prove extremely engaging and educational. The books immerse the reader in the period by including cultural tidbits from daily life as well as overarching socio-political issues of the time. All of them are sure to stir an interest in a time before video games and speeding cars. Units on either the Revolutionary War or the Civil War in particular would take on new meaning if they included reading her books.

 

Faery SwapSusan Kaye Quinn’s Faery Swap makes it clear that mathematics and physics are magic. Doubt it? Look at all the inventions we have today that would have seemed like magic 100 years ago. They all required a knowledge of numbers and how things move in space and time. The story even addresses the rapid advances made in the last century, and how math and science played a role in creating the “magic” we enjoy today.

 

magian highI’d like to think my own Magian High could be used in a unit about the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and what the whole process of desegregation might have been like—even though the story is set in modern times and deals with a different kind of separation altogether. Tweens are full of ideals, but sometimes the logistics of overcoming obstacles to reach those ideals are elusive. This story shows both the good and the bad of dramatic social change and what it takes to make things right.

 

 

Of course, these books do not take the place of science or social studies lessons, but they can certainly enrich them. The stories bring the concepts to life and spark interest in young readers to know more about what inspired the themes in the books. Having taught a variety of subjects in an integrated way, I know that it really works with youth. It ties all the courses of study together in a relevant way and helps them see how all knowledge connects.  That big stumbling block–”What does this have to do with anything? I’m never going to use this!”–goes away.

Stories show knowledge in action, and that makes learning exciting.

 

 

The Personal Nature of Language

I spent three and a half years in college because I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.

In those three and a half years, I learned many things about the world and about myself. The last thing I learned was I didn’t want to be in college anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I love to learn new things — always have. I had just grown tired of doing it in that particular environment. I had been working toward a degree in English Literature, largely because, at the end of my sophomore year, my counselor informed me I had to choose a major in order to continue. English Lit was the degree I was closest to fulfilling from the mishmash of classes I had taken to that point. Yes, that was truly the determining factor, because I simply couldn’t make up my mind. I was interested in everything. Why the University thought it necessary for me to choose one area of study didn’t make sense, yet I had to play by their rules, even though I (or more accurately, my mom) was paying for me to be there. I had courses in biology, physics, three semesters of calculus, psychology, history, religion, and philosophy under my belt. I also took creative writing, Medieval literature, Shakespeare, Victorian literature, as well as courses in linguistics, two semesters of French and one of Russian. I even spent three semesters in the drama department as extra-curricular — Charlie Brown with wispy red hair? Yes, it was a thing.

Suffice to say, language and how we communicate has forever fascinated me. I also had a year and a half of Spanish in high school and was tutored in Japanese for several weeks as part of a job I had subsequent to leaving college. The variety of the spoken and written word around the world is astonishing. Even within the United States, regional dialects can differ wildly — sometimes to the point of confusion and miscommunication. And don’t get me started on the British Isles, South Africa, India, and Australia, all of which purportedly speak a language dubbed “English”.

Dictionaries give us a basis of understanding, but even they morph and change as language evolves. New words are added each year and the definitions of old words are adjusted in some cases if their meaning or usage has changed over time. Words and definitions can vary between brands of dictionaries. But, why all the confusion? Why isn’t something like the way we communicate more structured and immutable?

Because language is personal.

ScarletDressYes, many aspects are fundamental. If I describe a woman walking down the street as wearing a red dress, we all will conjure a picture in our minds. That picture would be different for all of us, but we should all be able to agree on the basics: woman, walking, red dress. But what if I said the dress was scarlet in color? It’s still red, but the word “scarlet” will evoke different images — different emotions — within each person, based on our experiences. A young reader might be encountering the word for the first time and have to ask about its meaning or look it up. A fan of the movie Gone With the Wind might first conjure an image of the glamorous Miss O’Hara upon seeing the word. Someone who recently read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter may react negatively toward the word given its use and meaning in that story. Same word, different reactions. What if I used “crimson” instead? Again, more disparate meanings and feelings toward the word — and, by association, the woman wearing the dress — because of the individual experiences we each bring when we read or otherwise communicate.

As a senior in high school, I took AP English and one of our assignments was to read The Old Man and the Sea. I enjoyed the story and during one of our discussions about the symbolism and allegories within the work, my teacher mentioned an interview with Hemingway where he claimed he simply “wrote a story about a man and a fish.” In other instances, he, of course, talked about the deeper meanings within the story, but the quote got me to thinking. We all bring our own frames of reference, biases, and experiences when we read a work and can’t be certain how an author truly intended the reader to feel as they progress through a book. In fact, while doing some research for this post, I ran across an article where some scholars feel Hemingway had been so heavy-handed with the symbolism in The Old Man and the Sea, he might have been poking fun at the critical literary community. That shines an entirely new light onto the story.

Which brings me to the reason why I never finished that English degree.

As I took higher level literature classes, I noticed a pattern. Analysis of the assigned pieces drilled deeper and deeper, investigating why the author chose a particular phrase, or even a particular word, at a certain point in the work. I even remember a lecture on what happened during a dash — yes, a dash, just like these — within a story. At that point, I realized my professors had lost sight of the forest for the trees. Language is too personal to make absolute statements about intent and meaning. We can, more often than not, agree on basic premises when we communicate with one another, otherwise the world would be like the biblical Tower of Babel. But, for me, or anyone else, to say with certainty all an author meant by using a certain word at a particular point in a three hundred page novel just doesn’t make sense. It’s like asking Picasso why he placed a particular brush stroke where he did and why he chose that particular color. Maybe he had a specific reason, or maybe his brush slipped and he thought it looked good. Seeing deeper meanings in a piece depends as much on the viewer, or the reader, as on the artist.

Sometimes, the dress is just red.

TuckerPenny1010smAlan Tucker , author of The Mother-Earth Series (A Measure of Disorder, A Cure for Chaos, and Mother’s Heart), as well as a new science fiction series, beginning with Knot in Time, is a dad, a graphic designer, and a soccer coach. Mostly in that order. He’s had a lifelong adoration of books, beginning with Encyclopedia Brown, progressing through Alan Dean Foster’s Flinx, and continuing on with the likes of Jim Butcher, Rachel Caine and Naomi Novik, to name a few.

“I wanted to write books that I’d enjoy reading. Books that I hoped my kids would enjoy too!”

Visit his website for more information about his books. View maps, watch trailers, see reviews and much more!

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How to Keep Writing When You Feel Completely Burnt Out

I’m exhausted. My brain is fried. But the thought of not writing doesn’t work for me.

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I spent the last four months reediting, partially rewriting, and reformatting a series of mine. I got my rights back last year, and there were things in each of the books that I wanted to fix. I knew it would be crazy to do it all at once, but I wanted them rereleased all together.

I wouldn’t wish that headache on anyone.

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Do I regret doing it? Absolutely not. I got to revisit a world that I loved putting together. I gave each of the characters a little more life, more emotion, and a better reason to be doing what they’re doing. And I fell in love with the main guy just a little more than I had been before.

Two of the three main books are now released. Book three will hopefully be done in the next week. Just My Luck, which is a novella, has been released for the first time. This book is the story of Megan’s brother, Adam, and his run-in with Louie the leprechaun.

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So, now I stare at my computer, wondering what I should be doing next. I have six books waiting to be written in various worlds. After pushing myself for the the last few months to get this done, my brain has a hard time thinking it can relax and just . . . write.

Writing can be hard.  You’re putting a piece of your being on paper. Your very soul. So how do you do that when all you want to do is curl up in a ball? Start small.

When I was young, I would sit at a computer, pick out a name and an animal, and just start writing. It worked great, and the stories just flowed.

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Recently, I joined a group where each Wednesday we write one hundred word stories. Some prompts are difficult. Others are very easy. I have come up with a few new book ideas from those prompts.

My first luck book, Stolen Luck, actually came from a simple writing exercise. The prompt was “Your worst day ever.” I immediately wondered what it would be like if someone had never had a worst day. If everything always went right. So I started writing, and suddenly a leprechaun appeared and offered Megan all the luck she could ever want—for a price. It was unexpected, but it also ended up becoming three books and a novella. I’m currently writing a fourth book as well.

My biggest advice for those who are burnt out is, don’t give up. Take a break for a bit. Go read, do other hobbies you’ve put on the back burner, watch a movie—but come back and try again.

As I said before, start small. There’s a great link here where you can get random first lines. See where that first line can take you.

Catch up on your blog posts or journal. Loosen your mind to allow it to think.

Stories will hit you when you’re most relaxed. I have found myself scrambling for a piece of paper or my notepad on my phone at church, because a story idea struck while I was singing a hymn.

So what do you do to relax and get back to writing?

It’s all in the Details

Recently, my husband and I took a weekend trip across our state to see a friend get married. To break up a 7 hour drive, we stayed overnight in a little town where I’d found a good deal online.

It was a motel dating back to the 60s, recently renovated retro-chic to evoke a warm nostalgic feeling for a bygone era. But what impressed me the most were all the little conveniences the owner made available for the comfort of guests. The heater was turned on when we arrived, there were extra toiletries with fresh herbal scents, plush bathrobes usually only found in swanky hotels, and several retro bikes with baskets and big tires that guests could borrow to ride around town in style.  I certainly felt pampered, and I will recommend the place to friends and family.

The owner of the motel didn’t achieve this pampered effect with silk sheets or huge hotel rooms or ten thousand channels of cable TV (when you still can’t find anything good to watch). It was the attention to little plush details that delighted me and made me feel like an honored guest.

There are many times, in my busy modern life, when I fail to notice the little details around me. I’m so focused on getting through my “to do” list, rushing here there and everywhere, that I miss out on opportunities to observe small but important aspects of my surroundings. When I take the time to slow down and pay attention, not only is my spirit renewed with the delight I find in the world, but my creativity is boosted and my writing enriched.

In college, I wrote a short story for a friend of mine who was a pure-bred Wyoming Cowboy. I’m a city girl myself, and I’m sure he thought I didn’t know the first thing about riding the range. But I knew just enough. When he read the story, he was flabbergasted that I had mentioned a saddle creaking when the main character stepped up onto a horse and settled in. It brought the whole story to life for my friend, and made me look like I knew what I was talking about, after all. (Even though I really didn’t ;-) )

It’s this mention of small but important details in a narrative that ring true for the reader and bring the story to life. But gathering sensory details isn’t something a writer can do while sitting in a single room, day in and day out. It requires getting out into the open air, smelling the world around you, seeing it, tasting it for yourself. How else will you know how to describe the smell of fall if you don’t stroll around the neighborhood and catch a whiff of rotting leaves the neighbors are raking up? Or what it feels like when the sun dries the pool water off your skin on a hot summer day? These descriptions come from experience and taking the time to pay attention. And it does take time. We can’t all be like Sherlock or that guy on Psych.

That’s why I like to encourage kids to be lazy once in awhile. I fondly remember afternoons from my childhood doing nothing more constructive than watching clouds and deciphering their shapes. To this day, one of my favorite activities is to watch the stars at night.

Recently, while teaching a unit on poetry, I took a class of fifth graders outside to lie on the grass and choose a cloud to write a poem about. They came up with some wonderfully creative poems! Later, I pointed out to the kids that if they wanted to boost their creativity, it was a good idea to gaze at the sky every so often. It was like a revelation to them.

One of my favorite songs comes from the 1952 movie Hans Christian Andersen. He sings about an inchworm while the children are in school reciting their math facts: “Inchworm, inchworm, measuring the marigold. You and your arithmetic, you’ll probably go far. Inchworm, inchworm, measuring the marigold. Did you ever stop and think, how beautiful they are?”

When was the last time you noticed the marigolds?

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Shauna E. Black lives in the high desert of the southwest with her husband and four children. She is the author of Fury of the Storm Wizard, a middle grade novel about wizards in cowboy boots. She likes to bake bread, collect wind chimes, and lie on the trampoline at night to watch the stars.

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READING TO KIDS

How often do you have an opportunity to read to a child, or with a tween? Once a month? Every night? Personally, if I don’t have that one-on-one time often, I feel cheated.

There is so much to enjoy when reading with a young person. Aside from the fun or adventure of a new story, there is the closeness afforded in the sharing of your time. And, if it’s a bedtime story you’re sharing, there may also be lots of giggles and cuddles. Reading with a child is therapeutic to both the reader and the listener.

I’ve been reading to children for over forty years. When I was still a teenager, my parents fostered children for the state of Missouri. They fostered children under the age of two years, and my mother often asked me to read to the little ones. At the time, I felt it was almost a form of punishment to be forced to read picture books. But I soon found that I loved the rhythm and cadence of the words, and saw how they could soothe a fussy little one who had been separated from home and family. I had no idea back then of the impact reading to such young children could make. I did realize that they enjoyed looking at the pictures and hearing the sound of my voice. I’m still not sure who benefited more from the experience, but it didn’t take long for me to get over feeling that it was a chore.

Later, when I had two girls of my own and my husband and I had fostered kids of all ages, we became house parents to teenage girls at a children’s home. It interested me to note which girls enjoyed reading, and what their reading preferences were. It led me to believe there was a correlation between the time the girls had been read to from a young age, and to their reading enjoyment as they grew. It seemed to me that the girls who had come from more stable homes had a higher propensity for reading for pleasure than did the girls whose homes had been more unstable. That may be faulty reasoning on my part, however, because I have always loved reading and my sister rarely picks up a book, and we grew up in the same household.

But I firmly believe that books should be a daily part of a child’s life. It’s hard to beat the nightly ritual of a bedtime story. A quiet book often is the best choice, because it allows the child to relax as they listen to the sound of your quiet reading. Once in a while, however, we like to mix it up and find something lively or just a wee bit frightening to add a bit more fun. I usually reserve these choices for Friday night, although I’ve heard much hilarity going on when Grandpa stands in for me from time to time.

It isn’t just the little ones who benefit from being read to, however. I still read to my son, although he is beginning to think he’s grown too old for that. I tell him he may be outgrowing it, but I still need that time for just the two of us. Sometimes the entire family piles onto our bed and I read to the bunch of them. Those times are the best.

I hope if you aren’t reading aloud to someone on a regular basis, that my post will help you think about doing so. If you have no children of your own, there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer your time and talent at a local school or library. I’ve even been known to read aloud on bus trips. It’s surprising how many people will take the time to listen to a picture book if given the opportunity!

HAPPY READING!

Cordelia Dinsmore

 

 

QR Codes

candle star QRTheCandleStar bookmarkI usually direct my posts to teachers and parents, but today I have a little trick especially for authors that fellow Emblazoner Lois Brown shared with me some time ago. I’ve made good use of it.

We all know the value of creating bookmarks and business cards. A powerful image, a microblurb, an author name, and a website. Those pretty little slips of paper are an effective and inexpensive way to tease would-be readers into checking out our books. And they’re inoffensive. People actually like getting them.

Adding a QR code makes these already great tools even better. You’ve seen them. Theyr’e the funky little black and white blocks that can be scanned by phones and tablets to access a website directly. I slapped one on the back of my business card and it takes viewers directly to my website. The ones on the back of my bookmarks take readers directly to that book’s listing on Amazon. I’ve even thought about putting one in the back pages of my paperbacks, just haven’t done it yet.

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business card backSo how do you do it? Super easy! There are many QR generator sites on the web. My favorite is a generic looking, simple-to-use site called “QR Code Generator“. (Clever, eh?) All you do is type the full URL for your landing page into the text box provided (for example, http://www.emblazoners.com), and a QR code will automatically be generated. Click download and you’ve got an image you can add to anything you want. Make sure you label it and save it where you can find it again. The QR Code Generator website will not save it for later retrieval.

So now you have a new weapon in your marketing arsenal. Can you think of any other creative ways to wield it?

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blog photoMichelle Isenhoff‘s life is a balance between responsibilities and children’s literature. She’s usually irresponsible.

 

 

 

The Inspiring Parents of Seahawks’ Derrick Coleman Jr.

SeattleI live in Texas, so you will understand when I say I do not follow the Seattle Seahawks. I’ve never been to Washington State. In fact, the closest I’ve come to anything related to Seattle is watching umpteen “Fraiser” episodes.

So it may surprise you when I say I’ve fallen in love with the parents of fullback Derrick Coleman, but it’s true.

You may recall a moving Duracell commercial that aired a year ago when Seattle was preparing for last year’s Super Bowl. It featured the first-ever, legally deaf NFL player, Derrick Coleman Jr. and advocated trusting the power within to overcome obstacles. As I dried my tears, my curiosity sparked. This success required support and powerful narratives. I had to know more about his parents.

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Photo courtesy of handsandvoices.org

Derrick Coleman Sr. is a writer and a quieter soul. May Hamlin, Derrick Jr.’s mom, is more vocal, calling herself “very opinionated.” I found her to be warm, articulate and a passionate advocate.

When they received the diagnosis of Derrick’s deafness at age three, May admits, “I was heartbroken.” Derrick Sr. said, “We went through thoughts, ‘How do we deal with this? What kind of life will he have?’ Our heads were spinning.”1 Pushing aside their grief, they tapped into their courage and set out to help their son. May went to work on Derrick’s lagging verbal skills by engaging him in lots of conversation. They resolved that, despite his challenge, not to treat Derrick differently. And they adopted a “no excuses” policy where hearing could never be made the culprit.

Life in elementary school added more heart-wrenching challenges for the couple. May shared that some of the toughest moments were watching Derrick walk with his head down because no one wanted to play with him or eat with him because of his hearing aids.3 She added, “You try to be calm and hold it together for your child, but inside its tearing you up. But you don’t want to show that…You want to tell them it’s gonna be okay. You can get through this.”5 May equipped her son with a powerful response: Derrick remembers, “My mom always said people who make fun of you and try to bring you down…They’re trying to bring you down to their level.”4

FootballIn the midst of these trials, Derrick took a liking to football and wanted to try out for his local Pop Warner team. Afraid he might further damage his hearing, Derrick Sr. did not immediately agree, but Derrick Jr persisted until his dad finally gave in. May knew if her son was going to succeed, she would need to “put my all into it.”

And she did, innovating ways to keep his hearing aids in and more.

And what happened? At first seeing Derrick play, his father recalls, “I was like, ‘Wow this kid can play football’. I would be running up and down the field right alongside with him…and started to feel…‘Hey, he has something.” 2 Yet critics filled the bleachers. May revealed, “I couldn’t sit around people in fear that they would say something negative about his hearing. [Derrick] knew exactly where I sat, all the way at the top, all alone by myself.”2

Derrick excelled at UCLA and hoped to be drafted in 2012. But coaches could not see past his hearing challenges. “It still hurts, as a mom.” But things changed when the Seahawks gave him a chance in 2013 and he went on to help them win the Super Bowl.

May and Derrick Sr. set out to help their child realize his dream—it’s what parents do. What they did not anticipate is the legacy they have created: Derrick’s story has inspired hundreds of physically and mentally challenged children to dream. Looking at the hope in the eyes of these kids and hearing the narratives they have borrowed from Derrick to combat bullies and spur themselves on with No Excuses, nearly brings me to tears. It’s beautiful.

I doubt I will ever have the privilege of meeting Derrick or May, but if I ever do, I would ask them where they learned their narratives, for like those that I weave throughout my books, they are empowering, but rare, and don’t just pop out of thin air.

(Post originally published on L. R. W. Lee’s blog at bit.ly/1uSZfvD)

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Linda3L. R. W. Lee is the author of the Andy Smithson fantasy, adventure series of which three of the seven total books have been released to date. Book four in the series, Resurrection of the Phoenix’s Grace, is expected in Spring 2015.

She writes to teach her readers principles that can transform their lives – overcoming frustration, impatience, fear and more. She also shows why responsibility, diligence and dignity are the keys to true success in life. L. R. W. Lee lives in scenic Austin, TX with her husband, daughter and son.

Connect with L. R. W. at: Twitter   Website   Facebook

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Sources:

View the Duracell commercial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JzQFA2hxyRQ

http://articles.latimes.com/2008/oct/17/sports/sp-coleman17
http://abled.com/2014/01/18/abledpeople-derrick-coleman-the-seattle-seahawks-fullback-who-s-inspiring-a-generation-of-deaf-fans/
http://www.adayinmotherhood.com/derrick-coleman/
http://www.cbsnews.com/news/deaf-nfl-player-derrick-coleman-inspires-on-and-off-the-field/
http://www.examiner.com/article/interview-derrick-coleman-s-mom-may-hamlin-on-parenting-bullying-power-within

What in the World are Videogames Doing to Our Readers?

I know what you are thinking. ‘Here comes another anti-videogame message.’ We’ve been hearing it for years. Videogames are damaging our children. They are the reason for all of the corruption. Children have lost their desire for creativity and imagination. Kids are more prone to excessive violence and they now all have ADHD. Videogames are the reason that America is in the sorry state it is in…blah yada blah.

Well if that is where you are thinking this post is going, you are WRONG! If you think that access to videogames is destroying a child’s creativity, I dare you to spend twenty minutes watching an eight or nine-year-old kid play Minecraft. It will BLOW. YOUR. MIND! Seriously, as the father of nine-year-old twins, the volcano-moated fortresses that my children build in that game are amazing! Honestly, they put my old Lego and Lincoln Log creations to shame…but I digress.

Videogames have come a long way from the old Mario and Marble Madness days of the original Nintendo. Games now demand a sense of realism. Game developers have progressed in their ability to immerse a gamer into a story. Don’t believe me? Go and play Last of Us, Mass Effect, Skyward Sword, Skyrim or any of the Uncharted games. Heck, go play Pokemon (although I ABSOLUTELY do not want to hear about what stupid Pokemon you capture, what their weaknesses are, and who they evolve into). The advances in gaming have been seriously amazing and there is no reason to believe that it will be tapering off any time soon.

So…what does this mean for us as writers, especially those of us that shoot for the midgrade audience? Have we lost our target audience forever? Are they drowned in a sea of visual stimulation and mindless button mashing? I say NO! In fact, I shout it from the rooftops!

Why you might ask? What possible reason can this thirty-something aged Clydesdale (that is a triathlon reference for those of you who might be wondering) have for such a response? To answer your unspoken question, I must take you all back with me to my youth and the glory days of the old Nintendo. Remember those fascinating times? Blowing into the cartridges until you were light-headed? Stuffing one game on top of another in the console with the hope that you could find that sweet spot and the screen would stop flashing and the game would fire up? Rage quitting a game by slamming your controller to the floor after reaching the end boss only to die for the last time and be forced to start over?

In those days there were no studies about the effects of prolonged videogame exposure (well, I’m sure there were, but due to a lack of social media, most parents were blissfully unaware of them). The adults in those days discovered one simple thing. Nintendos were built in babysitters! Videogames kept their destructive, attention-craved, overly energetic little boys from leaving Legos all over the floor, coloring on the walls, and beating the stuffing out of any sibling within reach…for hours at a time! It was a wonderful age for both parent and male child (I know there are many female gamers, but lets face it, those early Nintendo games were made for us guys). However, for all of those boy children that grew up on videogames…there were girl children. Girl children that watched as their brothers’ eyes became glued to TV screens and dismissed everything around them. In many cases, those poor siblings became the replacement babysitters and job-doers. They were the children that got things done while their brothers wasted hour after hour in front of the tube, controller in hand, every bit as plugged in as the inanimate console they played.

Well, guess what? Now those sisters are Moms! And you know what else? They don’t want their own kids to follow down the same path as those brothers of old…and they have a strategy. Oh yes, those wily mothers have plotted together and they have come up with ways to keep their children from becoming too entrenched in gaming. Now they even conspire through social media to keep videogames from rotting out the brains of their precious darlings. Pinterest boards and Facebook groups have ended the limitless gaming that the boys of my generation took for granted. Now kids have to work for those precious nuggets of game time. They do jobs, they play outside, they do art projects, they do homework…and they read!!!

Yes, mothers are a bigger advocate for reading than ever before. But…we must accept the fact that videogames have altered the minds of our readers. Kids now have experienced a realism through story telling that didn’t exist before. So, as authors competing for their limited time and attention, we must up our game as well. Now, I am a huge fan of fantasy, and I have often wondered what I could do to hold a child’s interest for prolonged periods of time. What can I do to keep a child reading, even when the sirens call of a videogame beckons?

For me, I have found that the solution lies in the minor details. Often, when a child is telling me what they have found appealing in my book, it turned out to be some minor thing that I considered unimportant at the time. They added a sense of realism for the reader that even videogames couldn’t provide. Simple things such as picking burrs out of socks after beating through the brush, the ache in the back after sitting for a prolonged period of time, or the pain and swelling of feet after a long hike.

The question is, how can we as authors provide those kinds of details to kids? The kind they can’t pick up in the game world. Sure, we can always fall back on research, but I propose a better solution. Experience!!! If we as authors challenge ourselves to try something new, we can use the knowledge and information we’ve gathered in our writing. It was always easy for me to write that my characters were tired after a trying ordeal, but after staggering across the finish-line of a half-marathon or a summersaulting over the finish mat of the Spudman triathlon, I truly knew what exhaustion meant. I now understand how muscles can turn to watery jello and how calves can burn as though you are actually standing in the midst of a fire. I now realize that fleeing from an enemy is more than simply pressing down on the b button for an unending sprint up and over the mountain to the safety of the plains on the other side.

After taking combat classes, I realize that close quarters combat is more than simply throwing a series of punches and blocks. It is all about position, speed, timing, breathing, conditioning, and everything else that can give you an advantage over an enemy. The experiences I gained there were something that made my combat scenes much more realistic and lent a sense of immediacy that had been lacking before.

Now, I am not proposing that we go out and experience everything that we plan to put our characters through. Is your character going to jail? DON’T GO AND GET ARRESTED! Sometimes we need to use our imaginations, and of course, we need to research. But sometimes, a dash of real life experience in an adventure might just be the secret ingredient in the mix to winning the fight for a child’s attention. Whether that battle might be to get our next book onto the bookshelf in the home, or simply to keep our current book in their hands five minutes after a mother calls out those sweet, magical words that nearly every kid longs to hear:

“You can play now!”

JR JR Simmons lives in Northern Utah with his wife and 4 boys. He loves spending time with his family and coaching his kids in all of their different sports. He is an avid gamer and is very excited that his boys are picking up on his hobby. JR was recently introduced to triathlons and has since found that he loves the sport. Most nights he can be found either sitting down with a good game or hunched over his iPad writing.